BERKELEY, Calif (Reuters) - Protesters thronged to the University of California, Berkeley, for a daylong rally on Tuesday, then defied campus officials after dark by pitching tents a week after police forcibly removed a nascent anti-Wall Street encampment.
The late-night escalation by students and other protesters followed a day of peaceful demonstrations against economic inequality and cuts to higher-education spending and set the stage for a possible showdown with police.
It also came hours after nerves on the campus famed for its 1960s student activism were jarred by an afternoon shooting in a computer lab that police said appeared unrelated to the rallies taking place in Sproul Plaza, about a half mile away.
Police estimated the size of the crowd reached as many as 3,700 people at its peak a few hours after dark.
UC Berkeley police said they shot and wounded a man who drew a gun from his backpack in the lab at the Haas School of Business and displayed it in a threatening manner. The man, who was not identified, was taken to a hospital for surgery, the university said, but no one else was injured.
News of the shooting spread quickly on campus as the university transmitted text alerts to students advising them of the incident. Protesters sent out their own Twitter message declaring they would not be deterred from rebuilding an “Occupy Cal Encampment” torn down by police the previous week.
Organizers from various student, faculty and labor groups had called for a day-long campus strike featuring teach-ins, public readings, workshops and marches in response to the arrest of 39 people last week after demonstrators briefly tried to “occupy” the campus with tents.
Tuesday’s rallies were bolstered by members of the Occupy Oakland movement, who were evicted on Monday morning from their own camp in that city’s Frank Ogawa Plaza near downtown and who marched north to join protests at Berkeley.
Protesters on campus beat drums and chanted as they held up signs reading “Hella Occupy” and “Defend Public Education” and displayed pictures from 1960s student protests and marches led by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
“The things that brought me out are cuts in social services and education,” history major Eden Foley, 22, said as she staffed a Students for Social Change table in the plaza.
Buddy Roark, a 23-year-old coffee shop barista from nearby San Leandro, said he came to speak out against “just inequality in general, but especially with the political system being influenced by the cash flow.”
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, an outspoken supporter of the anti-Wall Street movement, hailed the protesters in a late-night speech from the steps of Sproul Hall, invoking the leaders of the 1964-65 “Free Speech Movement” at Berkeley.
“The Occupy movement is beginning to respond the crisis in democracy,” he said. “You are already succeeding. ... The days of apathy are over, folks. Once this has begun, this cannot be stopped and will not be stopped.”
Shortly after 8 p.m. local time, activists huddling in a “general assembly” meeting voted overwhelmingly to reestablish an encampment in defiance of campus rules. Within about 90 minutes at least 15 tents were erected and many other protesters pulled out sleeping bags.
“We will not be moved!” shouted a speaker who announced the vote. “Power to the people. We are here to stay.”
The mood was festive as the night wore on, with music and dancing, though the crowd diminished in size, and police kept a low-key presence at the fringe of the plaza.
Campus police, who were criticized for their handling of last week’s demonstrations, had earlier declined to say if they would intervene if protesters tried to rebuild their camp.
“Certainly that encampment is both against university policy and state law, so we will definitely again be educating protesters and participants on how they can exercise their first amendment rights,” Police Lieutenant Alex Yao said.
At about 11:30 p.m., Yao told Reuters police were “working with university administrators at this point to try to determine a course of action overnight.”
He said the goal of officers during last week’s raid had been to remove the “illegal encampment” and that they had been actively resisted by the demonstrators.
“Officers used the means that was necessary at the time to overcome this resistance and move the crowd back so they could gain access and remove the illegal tents,” he said.
Recent unrest surrounding protests in nearby Oakland has helped rally support nationwide for Occupy Wall Street, a movement launched in New York in September to protest economic inequality and excesses of the financial system.
But Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, adjacent to city hall, was nearly deserted on Tuesday, a day after police cleared out a long-standing encampment there and the focus of protests shifted, at least temporarily, to Berkeley.
The move by police on Monday to clear out Ogawa Plaza, after nearly a month of indecision on how to handle the protests, came days after a fatal shooting near that encampment fueled renewed pressure on the city to close it down.
Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston